by Roon Lewald
A friend whose close relationship with a partner of many years recently broke up wrote to me the other day that, although she has found new interests and new friends after moving to another town, this Christmas is proving hard to bear. Loneliness at a time when most people you know seem to have a partner or family with whom to enjoy the togetherness of choosing and decorating a tree, exchanging presents, sharing a festive meal… a sadness that overcomes many singles at this time of year.
I know the feeling, since my partner lives in Berlin and always spends Christmas there with her invalid mother. I simply let the festive season pass more or less unnoticed most years. This time however, I was determined to mark it somehow. So now it’s Christmas Eve and a breast of goose I bought at the last minute this morning is roasting in the oven. I’m listening to Bach’s Christmas oratorio as I peck away at my keyboard, sentimentally remembering the family celebrations I shared in my youth with dear people of whom many are no longer alive today.
Such pleasantly bluesy musings make way for other thoughts as I wonder how the rest of humanity is faring this Christmas. This promptly reminds me of an agonised e-mail I received a week or two ago from a young Senegalese I know, a political philosophy graduate who works as an informal African affairs counsellor for a German-based NGO.
Copying me in on an e-mail he sent to African friends in Bonn from Copenhagen, where he was observing the abortive Climate Change summit, he wrote that “Lucifer is at large here in Copenhagen!”
The fateful summit was producing only “chaos, conflicts over legitimate interests, empty promises on the one side and confusion about objectives on the other,” he complained. “The North churns out scientific climate scenarios while millions in the south face genuine existential threats. Banking crises swallow billions while we get 25 cents for the food crisis caused by their emissions! Noble speeches versus bitter reality! The losers are always the usual suspects – the poor, who remain the victims and are put down as bogeymen when they open their mouths to complain! Although the industrial countries are the main culprits, the poor of this world are the worst affected since many developing countries are more vulnerable to climate disasters because their natural circumstances, poverty and technical backwardness make them incapable of adapting. All of us are the losers of the actions for which we are responsible. No, Copenhagen is no Hopehagen. I am ashamed to be a member of the human race!”
Ridiculing my self-indulgent mood of bachelor blues, his message reminds me of the many millions of people I should be thinking of this Christmas, especially in Africa, where I was born. I dedicate these verses to them tonight:
When it rises at the darkest hour,
those who see the Southern Cross
know the wishful comfort
of an ancient, enigmatic Pledge
until it fades at dawn.
Africa, you have no comfort but
the nightly riddle of the Southern Cross.
By day, the land is fire-lapped by the sun,
exposing misery for which there is
keep Your Pledge!
Bless us and protect us
both at night
and in the heat of day!